Blue Notes February 2017
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
“It was supposed to be silly,” Daniel Stone recalls. However flippant in intention, in March of 2016, Stone together with Jeremy Liss, Alex Randall, and (ex-B&W Editor-in-Chief) Hallie Nell Swanson made indelible marks on Columbia discourse, writing fervently against the installation of Reclining Figure, Henry Moore’s “hideous sculpture,” in front of Butler Library. Their impassioned criticism, incarnated in a co-written Spec op-ed, quickly became national news and was picked up by such venerable publications as The New York Times, The Guardian, Jezebel, and The Odyssey Online.
And it worked. Columbia students united in broad, collective support against aesthetic assassination and administrative overreach. And the administration actually listened: President Lee C. Bollinger capitulated, conceded, and apologized—twice(!)— admitting: “It just wasn’t handled in the right way.”
From there, the provost-appointed Committee on Art Properties proposed—in a similarly non- collaborative manner—a new location outside of Havemeyer Lawn. Reclining Figure was installed on December 14, and Columbia became the second university (after MIT) to possess two Moore works.
Illustration by Kristine Dunn
If you’re still a Philistine, Art History Professor Robert Harrist Jr recommends that you “try to see it in early morning light, as the sun comes up over Low Library. It’s stunning.” So inspired by the controversy, Harrist and Roberto Ferrari, the Curator of Art Properties, are co-teaching a course this spring on Public Art, centering Reclining Figure as a focus.
At its christening, Columbia’s Senior Executive Vice President, Gerald M. Rosberg, sublimely portended that “a hundred years from now someone is going to see that sculpture and not be able to imagine a time when it was not already here. . . And they will see that plaque and be reminded of the donors whose generosity made that possible.” Examining the sculpture in its new home, I feel I am seeing it not as scandal but as art–or at least a women of sorts—and, wow, is it marvelous. Perhaps “a poorly formed pterodactyl” is “silly;” perhaps it is what transcendence looks like. Yet even if you’re after all this still not in some way inspired by Moore’s modernist masterpiece, I hear that plaque below it is really cool too.
— Alex Saltiel
The basement of Watt is full of trash, and also art. Lining the walls of the area where Watt residents dump their garbage are a number of paintings. One finds among them an anarchic range of styles and subject matter, from more traditional landscapes and still lifes to a large, El Lissitzky-like composition of a yellow disk that looks like a close- up of a cat’s eye, or a planet on the verge of nuclear holocaust. This last work is framed by a white cutout decorated with hand-drawn flames and the words “el incendio!!!” The painting’s rhyming circles are echoed by a halo of white plastic flowers that hang slightly above the painting on a white spigot.
Walking down the adjoining hallway yields further treasures: an American flag cunningly suspended from a pipe partly obscures, as if out of modesty, a painting of a mostly unclothed, reclining man holding a guitar and drink, rendered in impressively radioactive chiaroscuro. There’s a lovingly rendered, though slightly mishapen, Sprite bottle, stark against a blank white background. An actual foam parrot dangles from the lapel of a surprisingly faithful portrait of Leslie Knope. Many of the paintings are unfinished. Not a single one (there are seventeen paintings) is signed. When I reached the end of the hallway, I found a door adorned with a skull and crossbones sticker, faint music emerging from behind. I knocked on the door but no one answered.
Illustration by Kristine Dunn
According to the Facilities worker I ran into the next day, the Watt Basement Art Collection is around six or seven years old. “It started with this one,” he said, excitedly gesturing towards a still life of flowers, above the paper towel dispenser. A student had thrown it out, a girl, he remembered. The snowy landscape next to it was painted by a football player. His favorite was the painting at the very end of the hallway, which depicted hundreds of revelling bears. One bear was eating a watermelon and a few were fighting, but most were dancing, in a long line that stretched into the forest, out of sight. (This painting alone looked like it had not been painted by a student. I had in fact seen it in the room a former Watt resident, who left it hanging on the wall when he moved out.)
“They’re so nice we don’t want to throw them out,” the facilities staff member said. (He wished to remain anonymous.) “People take time on them,” he explained.
— Virginia Fu
On Tuesday, November 22nd, Dean Peter Awn entered Lewisohn Hall at 4:42 PM looking especially scholarly wearing a tightly-wrapped leather trench coat. Awn, who recently announced via email that he would end his 20 year term as Dean of the School of General Studies on June 30, 2017, sends out an annual Thanksgiving message which usually entails a humorous and strange encounter with a turkey and usually gathers such praise as being “pretty fuckin awesome” from Bwog commenters. This year, Awn announced in an email to all GS students that he would be “delivering [his] Thanksgiving message in a dramatically different way” and promised snacks.
The already-small GS Lounge was packed wall-to-wall when Awn entered at 4:59 PM, now wearing a tuxedo and waving his heavy, off-white cardstock pamphlet around. Students and faculty members crammed between tables and were laughing and snapping photos of the packed crowd before the real event even started. The crowd simmered down as Awn wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving and welcomed everyone to The Final Cluck.
Awn began reading his ten stanzas of Poean trochaic octameter about vengeful turkeys when Dean Tom Harford, GS’s Dean of Students, entered to a fit of laughter and applause dressed as “the Turkey Avenger” in a form-fitting turkey costume and wielding a whip. “You lout!” Harford yelled, “You shall suffer grievous pain for your disdain of Turkey lore.” The Turkey Avenger vowed to reenact the “true Thanksgiving tale” where turkeys ate pilgrims, and the poem ended with the Avenger promising that zombie turkeys will “haunt his daily faculty chores; fry his aged mem’ry core.”
After only seven minutes, the Final Cluck ended with Awn stating that “the old dean has fled the floor.” An audible “aw” escaped the crowd before a prolonged period of hooting and hollering. Someone from the crowd professed “we love you!” A smiling Awn stood in the middle of the congregated group and gave a deep, gracious bow.